Crime dramas run the risk of becoming an episode of Law and Order unless the right people are involved. The Departed could have been a TNT procedural had Scorsese not been directing. Be honest, would you want to sit through a 90-100 minute episode of SVU, that costs $10? Me neither, but in the hands those lesser, a crime drama could be just that. The solution is style and a sense of cool.
It started with Goodfellas, followed by Reservoir Dogs, and became dogma after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Scorsese, Tarantino, and Ritchie knew you could not shoot your run-of-the-mill crime drama without something to keep the audience from falling asleep. With memorable characters, stylish dialog, and a diverse array of camera work, they changed the way we play cops and robbers on film. Does Focus know how to play the game or was it too scared to come outside?
Rather than rely on direction, the film uses the Fresh Prince (yep, we are doing the name gag thing) to bring style to this story of conman Nicky and his apprentice Jess, played by Margot Robbie. During a complicated scam involving a Formula One race team, Nicky becomes torn between achieving a successful rake, or reigniting the relationship he once had with Jess.
Detective Mike Lowrey is the reason Focus succeeds. The rest of the cast and writing are great, do not get me wrong, but the performance from Captain Steven Hiller elevates the material to such an extent, he supersedes everything else. This movie was made for him to resurrect the suave persona we have yearned for. It was refreshing to see him doing material like this again, considering what has come out in recent years.
Along with Agent J comes a lot of humor the rest of the cast utilizes for outstanding moments of comedy. I would not call this a straight comedy because there are plenty of dramatic scenes, potent with tension, that maintain a consistent tone throughout. I do not usually talk about music, but the soundtrack was more than satisfactory, unlike Nightcrawler, which was begging for a synth score.
Hitch is the reason to see Focus, but that does not stop it from having a few issues.
There is this old saying, created by Red Letter Media in their Star Trek: Insurrection review (http://youtu.be/qlV3bsafkq0?list=PL2CCF5FDA9CEEBDB8), and it goes “Plot convenience equals movie suck”. For those who do not know, a plot convenience is something that happens in a story that does not make any sense, for the purpose of moving the plot in a specific direction. See Amazing Spider-Man 2 for a perfect example, because the ENTIRE movie is a plot convenience.
It can be forgiven in Focus because it is in service to style. Unlike a typical convenience, what happens is done with some degree of context, albeit most of it is a little too outrageous to believe. If you turn off your brain, it really is not that big a deal. Also, it would have helped if the direction were not so conventional. There was plenty of opportunity for clever editing and camera work reminiscent of the “Sinner Man” scene from The Thomas Crown Affair. What is present is serviceable while the other elements make up for any shortcomings.
Focus is worth your time. It is too good and too cool to skip for what has come out this week. It surpasses Maps to the Stars and that is a Cronenberg movie. Bring your friends and family and witness the return of Cypher Raige (I am so sorry; I could not help it).